Sadly, we have very little evidence of attendances at the Belmont
during the 1950s but we do know some and can look elsewhere to get a feel for the
general popularity of the Kent League. At this point, I would like to
thank Justin Allen at the Dover Athletic FC web site ( http://www.doverathletic.com
) and Jeff Trice at the Margate FC History web site ( http://www.margatefchistory.co.uk
) for allowing me to extract and analyse match and attendance
records from their archives.
Belmont Attendance Record -
The official ground record was set at the Belmont on 19
October 1957 for an FA Cup Third
Qualifying Round match...
It came at the end of the Reds' best FA Cup run of the
Golden Era and it all started down at Athenian League club Maidstone
United in an Extra Preliminary Round which they won 3-1.
As you will see see from our Programme
Collection page, the team progressed to a local
derby encounter with Canterbury City in the First Qualifying
Round. A 2-2 draw at the Belmont was followed by a thumping 5-1
victory at Bretts Sports ground (Wincheap). In the Second
Qualifying Round, the Reds defeated Betteshanger Colliery
Welfare 2-0 and brought Southern League Gravesend to the North
Kent coast during October.
Ian Johnson describes the events of that epic Gravesend clash
in his article "The
Record Attendance: Whitstable v Gravesend - 1957
" . Ian also mentions another titanic encounter that
attracted massive interest.....
Another Big Belmont Crowd -
In looking at that Gravesend match, Ian unearthed information
about another big Belmont attendance..... for a Kent Amateur Cup Semi-Final
against Bromley during the 1950/51 season. The crowd was
also given as 2,500. However, as Ian remarks in his article, there
may have been some rounding up or rounding down of the figures!
John Wraight also has memories of that Bromley match and
recalls another figure for the attendance.....
|One cup game was a home match against Bromley which
we lost 3-0. I thought that the attendance for that game
Certainly, there appears to be a bit of confusion. Some years
ago, I also came across a reference to a 3000 plus attendance for
the game. However, I have been unable to retrace that source. It
may be that it was a misquote which was later corrected and
reduced to 2,500. John has another possible explanation....
|Maybe the missing 500 were up the tree on the dyke
behind the corner flag with me!
Whatever the situation, we are probably safe in saying that the
Bromley encounter was the biggest attendance for a wholly amateur
match at Belmont!
Some people may be surprised that a humble Kent Amateur Cup
match could attract such interest. However, as explained on our Introduction
page, amateur football was very influential in non-league circles. Whilst the Kent League mixed
semi-pro and amateurs, the higher competitions did not. Bromley
played in the prestigious Athenian amateur league and their visit
to The Belmont would have been as eagerly awaited as that of
semi-pro Gravesend some six years later.
Bizarrely, an entrance ticket for the match recently came under
the hammer at Graham Budd Auctions as part of a collection of
Bromley FC memorabilia. The collection sold for £750. I wonder
what the ticket cost back in 1951?
League Attendances involving
Cup encounters weren't the only matches to bring crowds to the
Belmont. We know that there were substantial attendances for
games against top
teams in the league. Over 1000 spectators attended a home match
against Dover in 1956. Whitstable lost that game 0-1.
Away matches could be daunting prospects. Whitstable's first
league visit to Margate on 6 January 1951 generated an attendance
of 2,716.... and a 6-1 defeat! As the Reds improved, they became
more of an attraction. On the 18 August 1951, the same fixture was
watched by a crowd of 3,200 and Town came away with a hard earned
Even when the Reds ageing team was on the decline, away
fixtures against top opposition still created quite an atmosphere.
For example, on 17 November 1956, Whitstable sank to a 0-1 defeat at
Dover in front of 1,743 spectators.
Other clubs around the county were attracting massive crowds
for local fixtures and many "all time" attendance
records can be traced back to the Golden Era of Kent League days.
Let's take a look.
The Kent Senior Cup
Unlike today, knock out cup competitions were always held in
great esteem and such matches attracted the largest crowds. To
date, the biggest we have come across was a staggering 13,000
"gate" for a Kent Senior Cup final played at
Gillingham's Priestfield stadium in 1952....
Cup Final - 14 April 1952
Dover...... 2 Dartford..... 0
That was the year that Dover won the Kent League and their team
proved too strong for their Southern League opponents. The
attendance remains the largest number of spectators ever to watch a fixture involving Dover. Their semi-final match in 1952
also attracted a big crowd - 8000 for a 3-2 victory over
A Kent cup tie attracted the largest ever attendance at
Folkestone's Cheriton Road ground. That came in 1958 for an East
Kent coast derby game against Margate....
Folkestone Town.... v.... Margate
In 1951, a Kent Senior Shield semi-final set a ground record
of 5000 at Deal Town FC's Charles Sports Ground.
The FA Cup
The powerful Kent League clubs progressed deep into the rounds
of the FA Cup competition and set up money-spinning encounters
with Football League Clubs. Ashford Town's ground record was set
in 1958 when they met Crystal Palace....
FA Cup First
Round Proper - 1958/59
Ashford Town.... 0 Crystal
However, it didn't need a Football League team or even the
First Round Proper to generate interest. One of the biggest attendances for a Dover v Folkestone derby game came in 1951....
for an FA Cup Qualifier....
Second Qualifying Round - 13 October 1951
Dover.... 0 Folkestone Town....
Even more remarkable was the scene in 1949 when Kent's miners
poured into Dover for a FIRST round qualifier and generated an
attendance of 7,261. Unfortunately, they didn't get the result
that they so desperately wanted.....
FA Cup First
Qualifying Round - 1 October 1949
Dover.... 2 Snowdown Colliery
The League Attendances
Large crowds also flocked to league games involving the top
clubs..... particularly when local derby encounters were
involved. For example, in the early-to-mid 1950s, league games
between Dover and Folkestone regularly attracted gates between of 5000 and
It was a similar story elsewhere. In 1955, a ground record was
established at Ramsgate's Southwood Stadium when 5,083 people
squeezed onto the terracing for a battle with Isle of Thanet
neighbours Margate. The game ended in a 4-0 triumph for the Rams.
The intense rivalry also extended further afield with big
crowds at other games around Kent clubs. In the absence of
detailed records, we rely on records of Dover's away matches
to get a feel for some of the top attendances....
||FA Cup 1st
||Sheppey... 2 Dover... 4
||Deal Town... 2 Dover... 2
||Margate... 1 Dover... 3
||Snowdown CW... 3 Dover... 3
||Ashford Town... 0 Dover... 2
League Div 1
||Betteshanger CW... 1 Dover... 5
||Sittingbourne... 5 Dover... 2
||Bexleyheath.... 3 Dover... 1
Details drawn from the Dover Athletic
FC web site at http://www.doverathletic.com
Canterbury City's Bretts Sports Ground witnessed it's biggest
ever attendance in October 1948 when the club entertained Dover in
a Kent League fixture....
- 9 October 1948
Canterbury City..... 0 Dover..... 3
The Bretts Sports ground was owned by local company Bretts Ltd
and it was the home of "City" until 1958 when the club
moved to a brand new stadium at Kingsmead. Sadly, Kingsmead has
since been demolished leaving the club in the wilderness.
The Reserves Too...
During the late 1940s and the early 1950s, money was in short
supply amongst the working classes and travel was difficult. Few
people owned cars and, in a war ravaged county, public transport
was still recovering. Thus, many football supporters stayed within
their home areas.... to watch their reserve teams.
Whilst Whitstable Reserves attracted no more than a few hundred
for their home matches, attendances at some clubs were quite
staggering. Just take a look at these figures plucked from the
Dover Athletic FC web site.....
League Cup (Reserves):
League Cup Final (Reserves):
League Division 2:
||Faversham Town Reserves
Intermediate Cup Semi-Final:
Details drawn from the Dover Athletic
FC web site at
A Kent League Division 2 trip to Dover must have been a
daunting prospect for youngsters playing in the Whitstable
Reserves side. One week they were performing in front of 150 spectators at the Belmont.... and, the
next, they were facing an encounter like this....
Intermediate Cup Round 3:
|Information from the
Dover Athletic FC web site at http://www.doverathletic.com
Most Kent League Division 1 clubs entered reserve teams in
Division 2. However, the second division also contained clubs that
were making their way up in Kent footballing circles. In fact,
Whitstable's first team progressed to senior status by winning the
Division 2 championship during the 1949/50 season.
Herne Bay followed a similar path. They joined Division 2 in
the autumn of 1953 and the first match at their new Winch's Field
ground was watched by more than 1000
supporters.... for an encounter with Tunbridge Wells Reserves!
Bay eventually gained promotion to the Kent League
Division 1 in 1957.
... And The MOST Amazing?
I have been amazed by some of the figures discussed above. However,
I have saved the MOST amazing until last..... and it wasn't, by any means, the biggest.
It cropped up on 23 August 1952 when a crowd of over 2000
turned up at the Crabble Ground in Dover..... for a pre-season
They say that Liverpool supporters of the new Millennium will
pay to watch the grass grow at Anfield. Well, back in the early
1950s, the people of our county would pay to see similar feats.... at
the Crabble (Dover).... Hartsdown Park (Margate).... and Cheriton Road (Folkestone).
That's what made it the true "Golden Era of Kent